PSYCHODRAMA AND THEATRE
(from the book “The Power of Psychodrama”)
Thinking about a topic that can connect the concept of such a magazine* and the interest of its readers with the psychotherapeutic concept, which with its very name evokes associations about the similarity between the art scene and the Moreno’s therapeutic approach, the author of this text, to whom the therapeutic vocation is much closer than that of acting, has felt the need to launch into the adventure of trying to explain rationally the similarities and differences between these two processes that always carry in themselves a greater part of the irrational.
At the very mention of psychodrama, the first associations for people with no experience of the psychodrama process are connected to the theatre, actors and audiences, while the acting element is imagined to be the basic therapeutic technique. Next in this line of suppositions is the notion that a person progresses in the process of self-healing to final recovery by acting a certain part. It would be interesting to linger on this position and analyze a deeper flow of the association chain and the origin of the spontaneous faith in the healing power of theatre dynamics.
However, at this point it is much more important to first make a clear distinction that in the psychodramatic as opposed to the dramatic process, the person (the protagonist) who enters that process with their own problems and the drive to overcome them, stays in it and emerges from it in their own life role. With sometimes long-lasting changes to their identity (when such changes are necessary) the protagonist enters through the technique of role reversal into the roles of other important persons and objects in their life and, as the burden of their own identity and notions of themselves are temporarily removed, starts to feel the space, time and importance of emotional relations and messages in a completely different way from usual, gaining newly awakened feelings, notions and a qualitative change in estimating him/herself, others and reality.
It is important to mention here that this opens the door to spontaneity in learning to accept new roles more feely, which allow expression through more adequate actions and creativity, enriching what had been stereotyped patterns of behaviour and actions. The protagonist begins to replace rigidity with life-play, to replace stereotypical behaviour with the joyfulness of free action. However, as distinct from the actor, the protagonist on the stage during the psychodramatic process must soon return to their role, to take up again the burden of his/her own identity and decision-making responsibilities of life importance, to face the power of his/her own problems in the scenes that follow one after another, derived from the experiential, as well as the world of fears and unsatisfied drives. S/he is deprived of the defence mechanism of illusion that the events on the stage are happening to someone else and that s/he is only temporarily in that other role. Thus s/he is faced with a fateful importance of human identity and a burden of responsibility before him/herself and in front of others.
The roles of the director in the theatre and in psychodrama are fundamentally different. The psychodrama director is an active person on the stage who, first of all, has the role of a therapist, but also of a director, a critic and the audience at the same time. His/her intimate needs are peripheral—disregarded if possible—while his/her capacity and ability for experiencing the drives and frustrations of the protagonist and tuning these to reality determines the extent to which s/he succeeds in assessing the potential of the protagonist’s personality.
It is important to note that certain temporary changes in the identity of the director’s personality are necessary in order to adopt such a role during the psychodramatic process. These occur in a mobile play of entering and exiting the protagonist’s identity with the aim of understanding the protagonist’s intra-psychological happenings and then also in returning and shifting in various positions of his/her own personality and acceptance of the role on the stage. Nevertheless, at every moment of the psychodramatic process the director is obliged to exist with his/her manifoldness in the time and space of the inner world of the protagonist, as well as to participate both in the world on the scene and external reality.
It seems that acting in psychodrama is mostly represented in parts of its manifestation and action in the form of what is called the auxiliary ego. Important characters from the life of the protagonist and imaginary situations in which the protagonist has invested strong feelings and needs and in which they have experienced strong frustrations, are brought to life during the psychodramatic process with the participation of certain group members who are chosen by the protagonist and who frequently justify this unconscious choice by possessing some features that are very close to the features of the persons from the protagonist’s life. Taking part in such roles, they are trying with their acting to provoke as credibly as possible the semblance of enactment of the authentic situation and thus challenge the feelings and reactions of the protagonist that have remained unresolved till that moment which, with the power of its tension and the potential of creating fear and restlessness, forced the protagonist’s personality to run to the unsafe shelter of the role of an ill and suffering person.
In interpreting the role of the auxiliary ego, acting in psychodrama is aimed primarily at meeting the needs of the protagonist and at the same time it is subjected to continuous assessment of its authenticity. However, it is very important to highlight here that, after getting out of this role, the member of the group carries with them awoken identifications, already known to him/her or experienced and noticed for the first time, which are brought out to the group and shared with the protagonist in the next part of the psychodrama—called sharing—after the completion of the staged part. Thus s/he shows acceptance of these contents as his/her own and not as experiences that are only in connection with the other person.
The role and place of the audience in the theatre also differs greatly from that of the group members/observers in psychodrama. In the theatre the audience is in the auditorium, consisting of more or less interested individuals that in the scene dynamics find certain identifications with their own inner dynamics and experiences and at the same time give an emotional tone to the play with their reactions and thus reflect to the actors the degree of acceptance and estimation of the authenticity of the roles and the content that is taking place on the scene. The applause after the play is again a nonverbal, final sharing of the audience with the actors, and the edge of the stage, as well as the playing of other people’s roles and not their own, remains there after the play to separate them.
The audience in psychodrama represents more an organism than a group of individuals. Persons and objects are brought to life out of it, time and spaces are built, and conflicts are made and resolved on the stage. At the same time it represents a booster of emotions and drives—a surrounding that is ready to accept unconditionally all aspects of the protagonist’s personality as well as the reality with irrefutable laws of survival.
Although we can find similarities in certain phases and phenomena of the psychodramatic process with the art scene (theatre), if would be difficult to identify any kind of similarity between psychodrama’s sharing and theatre events. Thus the conclusion can be drawn that sharing is a purely therapeutic, group phenomenon in which the greater or lesser openings of the intimate worlds of the group members occur, aroused by the events on the psychodramatic stage. There is also an unusually powerful and in many ways unexplainable healing flow of verbal and nonverbal contents directed to all members of the group, but first of all to the protagonist in gratitude for everything s/he has given.
Closing this small, comparative concept, the author of this text becomes aware that he is being overwhelmed by strong feelings at the refreshed spectacle of the stage in his performances. It is a space which can hold the fateful importance of a life choice, a place where successes and failure are experienced and the time is being brought to life in your own roles as well as in the roles of others. It is also a space where it is possible to end an old life and start a new one…
*This text was published in the magazine ’SCENA‘ (‘STAGE’), No.6, pp.65-67, Novi Sad, 1991